In 2017, I was tasked with the challenge of establishing the Department of Cannabis Regulation (DCR) that would be responsible for administering the City’s first commercial cannabis licensing process in response to state-wide cannabis legalization. For almost 5 years, I have served in this role, boldly leading the nation’s second largest city through the implementation of a myriad of complex and widely-impactful cannabis policies and regulations. In this role, I have envisioned cannabis policy reform not only as a responsibility, but also as an opportunity to promote harm reduction and advance equity and social justice.
During my tenure, I have established and managed the day-to-day operations and long-term priorities of the Department, and led the Department’s growth from one employee with no office space into a public service organization with more than thirty hard-working staff seeking to establish a safe and equitable cannabis marketplace. I have had the opportunity to lead the City through three phases of licensing, which has resulted in the issuance of more than 350 licenses to Social Equity Applicants and 1,250 licenses in total. I have led the City through several comprehensive revisions to its Cannabis Procedures Ordinance and Rules and Regulations to continuously improve and streamline our application and licensing programs and services. Because of these various efforts, the City has collected over $320 million in tax revenue to fund essential City services.
Throughout my time at DCR, I have intentionally engaged with, learned from, and collaborated with, hundreds of diverse stakeholders — patients, consumers, business owners and employees, local and state elected officials and public administrators, law enforcement, public health organizations, and academics — collectively working to advance equitable cannabis policy reforms. Together, we have replaced prohibition with something better, and the positive results of our efforts have proven to be a model across the country.
Although there is still a lot more work to be done, I am proud of the Department’s progress in its mission to promote equitable ownership and employment opportunities in the cannabis industry. In addition to issuing more than 350 licenses to Social Equity Applicants – the most of any jurisdiction in the country – we have designed several business and workforce development programs to lower barriers to entering the legal cannabis market, including making retail, delivery and cultivation licenses available exclusively to Social Equity Applicants until January 2025, providing over 200 Social Equity Applicants $6 million in financial assistance through the SEED Grant Program, giving over 1,600 Social Equity Applicants access to over 100+ hours of technical assistance through the Business, Licensing and Compliance Assistance Program, and offering over 200 Social Equity Applicants access to Pro Bono Legal Services.
It is in light of this and many more accomplishments, and with an eye toward more to come, that I am announcing my resignation from my role as Executive Director of the City of Los Angeles’ Department of Cannabis Regulation. My trusted colleague Michelle Garakian will serve as Acting Executive Director effective March 12, 2022.
I am confident that the City will continue to deepen its commitment to address cannabis policy reforms and the disproportionate impact of the War on Drugs, and to improve upon existing efforts that make cannabis public policy more responsible and equitable. Furthermore, I trust that DCR will continue to keep equity at the center of its mission, and expand and improve cannabis programs and services.
As I transition out of this role, I want to offer my sincere gratitude and deep appreciation to the Mayor, City Council, Cannabis Regulation Commission, Department staff and each of you who have made my time here one I will treasure. Please know that as I pursue opportunities to advance equity and social justice beyond the City of Los Angeles, I will continue to advocate for our shared priorities. Thank you for allowing me this opportunity to serve the City and help create a more fair and equitable future.
THREE THINGS TO KNOW
- On January 11, 2022, the City Council approved a resolution to authorize DCR’s Executive Director to accept the $22,312,360 Local Jurisdiction Assistance Grant and sign the grant agreement. The resolution was transmitted to the State’s Department of Cannabis Control (DCC) on January 18, 2022. DCR is awaiting disbursement of grant funds from the DCC.
- On February 1, 2022, the PLUM Committee approved a motion from Councilmembers Harris-Dawson and Price and a report transmitted by DCR containing an interim budget request and proposed ordinance amendments. The subsequent actions have been outlined in the PLUM transmittal that was uploaded to Council File 21-1083 on February 7, 2022, for consideration in co-referred Council Committees. On February 16, 2022, Council heard and approved the interim budget request and requested that the City Attorney’s Office draft the proposed ordinance amendments. The City Attorney is currently drafting an ordinance as instructed by Council and DCR is taking steps to effectuate the changes as instructed by Council.
- On February 15, 2022, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors passed a motion directing the County Office of Cannabis Management to begin developing and implementing an equitable commercial cannabis licensing program in unincorporated areas of Los Angeles County.
The Business, Licensing, and Compliance (BLC) program is continuing its webinar series programming and open business advice sessions for verified Social Equity Individual Applicants.
Current Licensing Program Update
DCR has issued 1253 Temporary Approvals to businesses in the City of Los Angeles with more than 350 of those belonging to Social Equity Applicants. Please note that a business may hold more than one license to engage in multiple commercial cannabis activities. The following is a breakdown of the Temporary Approvals issued by DCR:
No. of Temporary Approvals Issued to Licensed Businesses
(Many Businesses hold more than one license)
On February 1, 2022, the Planning and Land Use Committee (PLUM) considered the motion originally introduced by Councilmembers Harris-Dawson and Price on September 29, 2021, and again introduced on January 19, 2022, to include previously omitted pages. Additionally, the PLUM Committee also considered a report transmitted by DCR on January 27, 2022, containing an interim budget request and proposed ordinance amendments. On February 1, the PLUM Committee approved the Motion and DCR report recommendations. The subsequent actions have been outlined in PLUM transmittal that was uploaded to Council File 21-1083 on February 7, 2022, for consideration. On February 16, 2022, the City Council considered and approved the Motion and associated report. The City Attorney is currently drafting an ordinance as instructed by Council and DCR is taking steps to effectuate the changes as instructed by Council.
Updated Licensing Map
On February 4, 2022, the Licensing Map on the DCR website was updated to reflect the latest sensitive use information available. This map is for informational purposes only, and the data represented on the map is collected from data sources outside of DCR’s control, such as other government agency websites, and therefore may change without notice. An applicant or potential applicant should not rely on the information in this map for confirmation that a proposed business premises meets the City’s zoning, sensitive use, or undue concentration restrictions, or that it will have its application processed by DCR.
Beginning December 27, 2021, Applicants and Licensees may request expedited processing of application or modification records by emailing email@example.com within 72-hours of submitting a complete Pre-Application Review, Temporary Approval, or Equity Share Document Review record through the DCR Licensing Portal. DCR personnel will review the expedited service request and issue an updated invoice with the additional Expedited Services fee(s).
SOCIAL EQUITY PROGRAM (SEP)
DCR is delivering Business, Licensing, and Compliance (BLC) Assistance programming
The BLC program launched in August 2021 with an all-day Virtual Career Fair. The BLC program has also hosted Tech Week, which was a live webinar series on integrating technology into a commercial cannabis business. From September 2021 to November 2021, DCR hosted an additional 15 live webinars covering specific business topics for cannabis entrepreneurs from insurance to inventory management to marketing and branding. DCR also released its online Learning Management System (LMS) with over 50 hours of online educational cannabis business content curated by subject matter experts. This content is exclusively available to the more than 1600 verified Social Equity Individual Applicants (SEIAs).
The BLC program resumed the live webinar series on January 10, 2022, with a monthly “Beachside Chat” speaker series. The speaker series covers hot topics in cannabis with subject matter experts. Additionally, the BLC program hosted four licensing webinars, each covering a different aspect of submitting a successful application. The workforce development portion of the BLC program began on January 18th with orientation sessions advising how to navigate successfully to employment in the cannabis industry.
The BLC program in February included bi-weekly live webinars on topics such as how to raise capital, negotiating commercial leases, information on equity share and licensing processes, and career pathways in hemp and non-retail. The program also continued its “Ask Me Anything” Free Virtual Business Advice sessions held on Thursdays and Fridays for verified SEIAs. March sessions will focus on overviews of each sector of the cannabis supply chain including retail, delivery, distribution and manufacturing. March will also offer opportunities for job seekers in LA’s cannabis market to hone their job search skills in preparation for the GROW 2022 Career Fair.
SEED Financial Grant Program
The SEED (Social Equity Entrepreneur Development) program was opened from April 20 to August 18, 2021. The program distributed $6 million in grants to 206 Social Equity Entrepreneurs. DCR is making plans to reopen the program upon receiving additional funding from the California Cannabis Equity Grant in 2022.
Pro Bono Legal Assistance for Social Equity Program Applicants
The LA County Bar Association (LACBA) continues to match qualified Social Equity Individual Applicants with attorneys through the Pro Bono Legal Assistance program. LACBA generally pairs applicants with an attorney within 24 to 48 hours of the referral.
The program has recently expanded to include Social Equity Individual Applicants pursuing a Delivery-Only license who have passed the Pre-Application stage.
In order to participate in the program, applicants must complete and submit the Legal Services Authorization Agreement and complete the Pro Bono Legal Services Survey. Applicants will be referred directly to LACBA who will match them with an attorney. Once referred to LACBA, applicants will hear directly from LACBA and/or the assigned attorney.
On February 16, 2022, Council considered a motion originally introduced by Councilmembers Harris-Dawson and Price on September 29, 2021, and again on January 19, 2022, and amended by a report transmitted by DCR on January 27, 2022, that also contained an interim budget request. Council approved the motion and the related DCR report. The City Attorney is currently drafting an ordinance as instructed by Council and DCR is taking steps to effectuate the changes as instructed by Council.
On February 15, 2022, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors passed a motion directing the County Office of Cannabis Management to begin developing and implementing an equitable commercial cannabis licensing program in unincorporated areas of Los Angeles County.
On March 9, 2022, a resolution to accept a $5.7 million grant awarded through the Cannabis Equity Grants Program for Local Jurisdictions was introduced into the City Council. The purpose of this grant is to advance economic justice for populations and communities harmed by cannabis prohibition by providing support to local jurisdictions as they promote equity and eliminate barriers to entry in the regulated cannabis industry for their equity program applicants and licensees. DCR will use this grant to provide direct financial grants to verified Social Equity Individual Applicants as well as one-on-one consulting and training, and navigation assistance with cannabis licensing and regulatory requirements.
DCR was notified on December 23, 2021, that its application for the Local Jurisdiction Assistance Grant was approved for the full amount of $22,312,360. With these grant funds, DCR will be able to expand and improve services necessary for businesses and applicants to continue to apply for local temporary approval, renew their provisional licenses and transition into annual licensees. DCR will also be able retain consultants to support environmental review for CEQA compliance. The signed grant agreement was transmitted to the State’s Department of Cannabis Control (DCC) on January 18, 2022. DCR is awaiting grant funding disbursement.
COMMUNICATIONS AND COMMUNITY OUTREACH
On November 23, 2021, DCR released the SPARK Report which details stakeholder feedback collected by MBI Media throughout SPARK, including the eight Spark Sessions, the virtual meeting rooms, and the SPARK surveys. The recordings and whiteboards from the SPARK Sessions are available in the Virtual Meeting Room and on the DCR website. The stakeholder feedback detailed in the SPARK Report will assist DCR in making future recommendations to the Cannabis Regulation Commission and City Council. A video synthesizing the SPARK report and project is forthcoming.
Business, Licensing, and Compliance (BLC) Program
As mentioned above, DCR continues to reach out to the more than 1600 verified Social Equity Individual Applicants to share programming that is exclusively available to them. Programming includes office hours, career fairs, webinars, and online videos curated by subject matter experts.
Highlight of Recent Press:
The efforts of the Department of Cannabis Regulation were highlighted with several media outlets with local and national audiences. The highlights include:
An interview with DCR’s Cat Packer in the podcast Psychoactive by Ethan Nadelmann discussed the Los Angeles experience in legalizing and regulating the cannabis industry. PSYCHOACTIVE: Cat Packer on Regulating Cannabis in Los Angeles
Los Angeles Magazine looked at African-American female entrepreneurship in Los Angeles’s cannabis retail market in The Battle Behind L.A.'s First Black-Female Owned Pot Dispensary (lamag.com). The article included a quote from Cat Packer about how stakeholders such as Kika Keith have helped improve how DCR and the City manages regulations and applications for licensing.
“Folks who apply for a license today are going to have access to so many more resources that folks like Kika didn’t have access to, but in part because Kika told us what she needed,” Packer said.
In February, entrepreneur Ebony Anderson wrote in How I Became Dubbed the 'Olivia Pope' of Cannabis - Cannabis Business Times about her journey entering the cannabis industry stating, “There's some misconception about DCR: That they're not cannabis-friendly or aren't a great ally for the cannabis community; that they make it difficult. And that couldn't be further from the truth. I have met Executive Director Cat Packer and Social Equity Program Director Dr. Imani Brown; they're actually very supportive of cannabis and the industry in and of itself.”